tv The Chris Matthews Show NBC January 16, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PST
>> this is "the chris matthews show." >> ask not what your country can do for you. >> tear down this wall. >> can i hear you. >> the time for change has come. chris: now it comes, not so sweet carolina. under assault from gingrich, perry and the hard right. does mitt romney have the stuff to take it? and build on it? he's got the money e. the family, the looks. but does he have it inside? can he show us there's more there than meets the eye? mow down politics. why are south carolina politics so down and dirty? it's where lee atwater honed his smear campaign skills, people hooked up to justifier calls and turning a murderer
into michael dukakis' running mate? what makes this state for everybody that wants to be president the messiest place of all? and they want more than anything to beat obama. is this why evangelicals say they will be solid for mitt romney? does the desire for victory in november trump their dislike of his religion? i'm chris matthews. welcome to the show. with us today, "time" magazine's michael duffy. the christian scientist monitor's liz marlantes. nbc's kelly o'donnell. and politico's john harris. first up, mitt romney is on the march and could wrap it up next week in south carolina. in his 40% victory up in new hampshire he urged his rivals to cut out their chorus of criticism. >> we've seen some desperate republicans join forces with him. this is such a mistake for our party. chris: impressed by the romney roll, those who once were romney detractors from john mccain to rush limbaugh, have appealed to romney's tormentors to please stop helping the
democrats. the newt pack. got an idea for you guys. recut your ads on romney. and your tag line is i am barack obama, and i approved this message. chris: but those opponents have little to lose by their attack ads. and in fact, hope to gain by somehow exploding romney's lead or at a minimum ending their own races strong. but could it be the -- this moment is a big opportunity for romney? presidents win because of character, the big test for romney in the next week, can he show character? can he use south carolina -- to recover from his big shot talk, the stuff about enjoying the ability to fire people? and also from the pro-gingrich attack ads out now in south carolina. and can he show new character michael a great test for him? because even though he's ahead, he's the target. >> he's decided he's got to talk about his years at bain capital. that's a risk and an opportunity for the following reasons. he's got to explain why in 15 years as an investment banker
he was more of a jobs creator than a turnaround artist. the romney campaign says it has people standing by waiting to talk about the jobs they got. because of his years at bain. that's the opportunity. the risk is it's not a great story. investment bankers tend to -- be more about profits than job crarings. and the campaign has been strangely reluctant to talk about these years. and if they tebow down this road and start talking -- go down this start and start talking about his businessman he will have to release his tax returns. chris: and why -- >> it gets back to the question of who he is. it will cement the question of whether he's a wall streeter and a rich guy. chris: kelly, this whole thing about is it a good time for him? i thought when you're under attack is the best time to attack back because people root for you. >> romney aides are saying they weren't surprised of this attack on bain, surprised at the timing and the source of it being fellow republicans. they had the file for july when it would be presumably full on general election campaign.
so they say they are well prepared -- chris: why didn't they open that file and see what it said? i'm serious. why -- he seems -- is he caught wrong footed on this now? >> they didn't want to deal with this right now in this environment. when it could be harmful to him to get the nomination. they expected to do it against the president. and when you talk about having people ready to go, i'm hearing the same thing. that they will try to package him in a way that shows that literally what the country is looking for is success in handlerring the economy, being willing to be tough in business. even when it doesn't always work out. so they know this is coming. they were more surprised at the source of it and that it came so early. chris: and you used the word packaging and i often use the word confection. so much of politics is pretending that things worked out. to say that he went to bain capital to create jobs is probably ludicrous to most businessmen. he went there, maybe loves the free enterprise system generally but went there to make bucks, right? >> that's the nature of venture capitalism. you're going at the heart of what defines people who work in that sector in financial
services. chris: we live in a unique time when people talk about being part of the 99% and french revolution talk in the air. what i've discovered is two ways of looking at wealthy people. some of us, most of us look at people like steve jobs, spielberg, lie iacocca, name -- iacocca, name brands, gates, they deserved their wealth and swung that pick and may have failed but they succeeded. and there's other people always looking at it this way. he went to harvard, business school, old man looked out for him and had his connections and of course he's working for bain. how did he get that job? >> class politics has not really been a dominant note, one that works consistently in american politics. since the 1930's. yes, there's class resentment. but most people want to see themselves as upwardly mobile. they don't resent the rich. they resent the rich if they feel the rich's success came at their expense. that is romney's vulnerability. to go to mike's point, his
opportunity is to say i made a lot of money because i'm a successful, ambitious person and now my life is committed to seeing that other people have the kind of opportunity that i had. he has to come up with some version of that narrative or otherwise he is mincemeat. >> ultimately, it's really the character issue that is behind all of this that matters. i think whether or not a candidate is rich is actually less relevant than how voters feel about that candidate in terms of can that person relate to me, is that person out of touch? romney is teetering on the out of touch narrative right now. which is a huge problem for him. chris: let's cut to the quick here. president obama thinks that people -- people make money by making things and don't like people to make money off money, manipulators, financial people, wall street people. how does he defend himself that he made money off money? he didn't build -- he says he built businesses. >> right. here's my theory about what romney needs to do and i think
he has a big problem and not sure it's totally possible for him. the main problem with romney that i see right now as a candidate is mainly he's just not enjoying himself much on the stump. and that's something that voters really want. they want to see a politician who is enjoying it to some extent. and romney has not found that enjoyment piece. and i think he could actually maybe get that from his business experience if he can cast himself as someone who loves to tackle problems. and i'm an innovator and i'm a problem solver. chris: when he says things like i like to fire people and pulls back when he ramses he's revealed something he doesn't think people are buying or aides say and he pulls back. >> he notion the narrative is dangerous. the $10,000 bet. the corporations are people. all of this is there's a whole wealth of stuff out there that is building up to portray him as out of touch. chris: he doesn't trust his instincts now. >> basically. but i think his best shot is to go with this sort of earnest i'm a problem solver and that's who i am narrative. chris: that's right. a risk taker. that's why he's rich. let's go to the matthews meter of 12 of our rememberings including kelly, will he be
able to turn the attacks on his buck ess to his advantage -- on his success to higgs advantage, 6-6. you're on the optimist side from his perspective that he can turn the assault on his wealth and success into what? >> well, i think the length of time that this will now be exposed will help to dilute it unless there's some huge surprise we don't expect. if he is skillful in how he responds to it, and what john was talking about, there is an essential american quality of wanting to support success, even if you are on the left. people want to see americans do well. and so he can sell that. i think by focusing on being a risk taker. and he talks about staples and sports authority. very, very ordinary places. chris: and he can point to those big successful brand names. everybody goes to stape manies to buy something -- staples to buy something and domino's for pizza and i made those companies work. >> sure he can. but by the end of the summer, every voter in america is paying attention will be able to cite three or four companies on both sides. because it will come out and
we're going to know the companies that worked and we're going to find how to about the companies that didn't. chris: that whom about my age who talks in that ad about how this guy is the villain. thlings the guy -- this is the guy who destroyed her business or company or the success of an iconic brand name like staples. >> i disagree with michael. i don't think people will -- like, which company succeeded and which company failed during his time at bain? what they care about is that -- is whether romney now believes more about them, that his candidacy is more than about personal ambition. chris: can a story of america -- one american's personal wealth be good for the economy overall? in other words, can he make his personal success at business a selling point for his ability to make the economy work? >> people don't care about his success or about his failure. they care about their lives and he has to change the narrative outward, not inward. chris: success in business is not a sales pitch for being president. >> i think it is to the extent that it -- a skill set he might have that would help people who
are worried today. chris: and obama -- >> i think it becomes -- to the extent he can make it about his character in a way that is flattering, then that is fine. the other point that we should make is that the attacks in the primary i think have actually helped him in a weird way. because they've allowed some conservatives who maybe were looking for a reason to get onboard with romney anyway, a greater reason to say i'm opposed to this attack on capitalism. chris: is the problem with him he doesn't look like he's ever sweated? he doesn't look like a guy who -- >> he looks comfortable and that's hard for people in the republican party which it nibe an issue in the fall. -- which it might be an issue in the fall. if it's a referendum on bain not good for romney. chris: before we break, "time" magazine, they don't call south carolina the low country for nothing. it's the state of strom thurmond and jim demint and also the guy who gave birth to
the modern smear campaign, lee atwater. his tab particulars were so underhanded that they went beyond dirty tricks. lee atwater pioneered the telephone technique called push polling. to plant untruthings in the minds of voters who are called by partisans pretending to be pollsters. all this was retold a few years ago in a documentary called "boogy man." listen to sam donaldson describing push polling. >> lee was one of the first advocates of the push poll. the first few questions are routine. the next question is, well, if you came to believe that governor x was a pedophile, would that change your opinion? the poller hasn't said that governor x is a pedophile. simply planted the idea that if he were. >> they did a poll which would ask would you vote for a jew who did not believe in the lord jesus christ? >> anything you want to know? >> i think tife heard quite a bit about -- i've heard quite a bit about you.
what do you know about the lord? i'm a little bit prejudiced toward people knowing my lord. >> lee atwateraries candidate won. -- chris: lee at water's push polling played out in the year 2000 when opponents of john mccain used phone calls to spread a whisper campaign that he had a -- a reference to mccain's adopted dautfrr bangladesh. lee atwater's techniques played a huge role in 1988 when he was campaign manager for george bush 41. atwater was the guy who helped champion those ads about michael dukakis' message -- massachusetts prison furlough program that truned dukakis that year. >> and who knows thoum times willie horton's scowling, angry face of a killer was televised? absolutely for free. >> there's a story about a fella named willie horton. >> willie horton. >> convicted murderer. >> first degree -- >> convicted murderer -- >> killer.
chris: atwater denying any role to less had i stall. >> you think the willie horton commercial, though, gives hints of racial politics? >> -- chris: you don't have a willie -- >> you don't have a willie horton commercial on the air? >> no. >> you don't have an ad on the air about the crime issue? >> no. chris: lee atwater died of brain cancer in 1991 and apologized for his tactics before his death including a direct apology to michael dukakis for what lee himself called his naked cruelty. and when we come back, are the evangelicals who want barack obama out of the white house really going to worry about whether mitt romney is a mormon? and scoops and predictions right from the notebooks of these top reporters. be right back.
republicans who voted in the last presidential primary back in 2008 were evangelicals. well, that may be mitt romney's hidden hurdle down there next week. rick perry is running this ad there with its images of crosses, the only campaign to the religious voter. but a new national poll expressed a desire by evangelicals to beat barack obama rise over their concerns over his mormon religion, what the pew research firm found. 53% of american evangelicals do not consider mormons to be christianings but the same poll has 91% of those same evangelicals saying they want mitt romney over barack obama. john, i don't know if this is the battle of the bigotries or what it is, but it's serious business. they want to get rid of alabama to the -- obama to the point where they don't want to focus on romney's mormon im. >> the great unifying force in republican politics, and a shared enemy, pretty powerful unifying force in politics. chris: the interesting thing is if you don't count people who describe themselves as
evangelicals, two thirds of white protestants, the way they do this, white protestants, think mormons are christians and that's the same number, about 63% of roman catholics believe that mormons are christians. so a unique concern of the evangelicals who are so heavily in the power base down there. 6 0% of the vote. >> i spent time talking to pastors, churchgoers and struck by the fact that they are less concerned about the mormon faith and questions they have about the theology of it. and when i press them at that little bit about it, obviously there are still people of deep concern and talk about things -- a way to get past it and look at romney's family values and his section of christianity -- chris: pro life. >> evolution to pro-life. and it is -- in some ways surprising that there hasn't been more resistance and not as public as in 2008. >> and the blandness of mitt romney's personality. mormonism scared some people because it's exotic and nothing exotic about mitt romney. chris: let's -- it seems to me that rick perry is the wenl one
who might be playing this -- is the only one who might be playing this but he does play the christian aspect of his background. he did it in iowa and does it everywhere. is that an overt appeal to anti-mormon thinking do you think or any what i no say that? >> i don't know if it's an overt appeal to anti-mormon thinking. should be appealing to christians. that makes sense. politically for him. he is the best fit on paper for evangelical christian voters. i don't think it's working for him particularly well right now at the moment. chris: interesting, we should remind people who have any concern about this, to think about the fact that harry reid, the leader of the democrats, is a mormon. people like scowcroft who are realists in foreign policy as opposed to the knee poe cons and all -- the neocons and all the differently political perspectives. >> and right now, massachusetts, calling him a massachusetts moderate. that's what the ad newt gingrich -- chris: he clearly is one of those. >> the issue isn't religion. it's ideology. the question is whether south carolina voters, particularly up country south carolinaers who have historically been poor
pour whiter and more evangelical, are going to accept it. they're going to split the vote and mitt romney will probably be ok. chris: last word. will it matter in november? >> i was going to say an interesting side note, when you look at national polling, the groups of group of voters who is most willing to say they would not vote for a mormon for president are liberal democrats. they're not going to vote for romney anyway but most willing to say that they have a bias against being mormon in a president. that they think it's a cult and think it's weird. and they -- >> or they think it's conservative. >> either way. the single group of voters in national polling that says no, i would not vote for a mormon, regardless of party affiliation, is liberal democrats. chris: we'll see. when we come back, scoops and predictions right from the [ crickets chirping ] [ traffic passing ] ♪ [ music box: lullaby ] [ man on tv, indistinct ] ♪ [ lullaby continues ] [ baby coos ] [ man announcing ] millions are still exposed to the dangers...
>> tell me something i don't know is brought to you by charles schwab. let's talk about the personal attention you and your money deserve. talk to chuck. chris: welcome back. mike, tell me something i don't know. >> george w. bush actually likes writing books. and he's been thinking lately about writing a book about his father. the 41st president who will turn 88 in june. he likes the process you go through. chris: has anyone actually seen him writing? >> if you read at certain points you know he wrote it. i would preorder that book at amazon. chris: and a bush on bush. >> bush on bush. >> congress is coming back. one of the issues that i think is going to come right back into the media is the keystone pipeline. boehner is signaling he wants to make that an issue. chris: he's nor it.
>> yeah. and obama has this deadline coming up. there's a report expected to be released in the next couple of weeks from the state department looking into whether there was conflict of interest. that issue will come up. and republicans are really going to try to squeeze obama on this. chris: make sure -- >> environmental arguments. >> the absentee ballots there in florida. romney organizers say they have got a very strong get out the ballot vote. and they expect to have maybe half of their vote in before anybody goes to the polls. chris: why would you leave florida in january? that's what everybody in the world wants to be there. yes. >> romney aides are steaming with frustration about the change in rules that the republican national committee made this year away from winner take all primaries toward proportional primaries. it means they know there's a good chance that mitt romney might be the inevitable nominee and have to slog through a bitter contest all the way to spring or later. chris: past april 1. >> yes. chris: when we come back, the
big question of the week, and it's a big one. the threat from iran. it was in the news this week and will probably stay there. will mitt romney's lack of foreign policy experience be a problem for him against president obama? be right back. >> "the chris matthews show" is brought to you by charles schwab. get the help your money deserves. talk to chuck.
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chris: welcome back. problems with iran heated up again this week and here's what mitt romney said in a november debate. >> look, one thing you can know, and that is if we re-elect barack obama, iran will have a nuclear weapon. chris: that brings us to this week's big question. would romney's lack of foreign policy experience be a big problem for him against barack obama? >> a big problem ballparks the election won't be that -- because the election won't be that much about foreign policy but not a great for him and the advantage always goes to the white house in foreign policy crisis. >> this president has had a unique string of successes when it comes to fighting terrorism.
that sort of thing. that's going to make him especially strong for an incumbent i think, and for a democrat. >> talking tough is not the same as experience and the president has more on foreign policy now. chris: john. >> a little counter. i do think iran and the possibilities of a really messy situation there poses a greater hazard to president obama. and undercutting what is generally a strong national security record. obama is a big variable -- iran is the big variable on foreign policy for obama. chris: i wonder about ironclad commitments like that one on nuclear iran, before you're elected make sure they don't have a political weapon. >> much easier for him to do. chris: helps him now but maybe a problem if he gets elected. that's the show. thanks for watching. that's the show. thanks for watching. see you here next week.